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Willem de Kooning

“There’s no way of looking at a work of art by itself. It’s not self evident–it needs a history, it needs a lot of talking about; it’s part of a whole man’s life.”

“The Club came along at just the right time. It was so important, getting together, arguing, thinking.”

-Willem de Kooning

In late 1940s, in search of cheap coffee and companionship, a small group of artists led by close friends Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline set up a meeting place which they cheekily called “The Club.” De Kooning, never forgetting his working class roots in Rotterdam’s docklands, felt a profound solidarity with artists who were looking in from the outside. He enjoyed turning the tables on snobs, creating a club of the outcast. Ironically, this grubby loft in Greenwich Village almost immediately became the intellectual centre of the new painting.

While the actual artmaking happened in artists’ studios, that ways that artists, critics and the public talked and thought about abstract art was very much shaped by discussions at The Club. At its height in the early 1950s, the Club boasted as many as 150 dues-paying members. Every significant New York-based artist, gallery owner, critic and curator passed through its doors, making it a significant force in the emergence and development of Abstract Expressionism.


de Kooning Timeline

  • 1904 Born Rotterdam, the Netherlands
  • 1925 Graduates from Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts
  • 1926 Emigrates illegally to the U.S., settles in New York
  • 1934 Begins his first series of abstract paintings which he continues through 1944.
  • 1938 Meets artist Elaine Fried (later de Kooning). They marry in 1943.
  • 1940s Develops close friendship with artist Franz Kline.
  • 1948 First solo exhibition in New York, including 10 black and white abstract paintings.
  • 1949 With Kline, one of the founding members of the “the Club,” an artists’ group who met Wednesday nights to discuss art and theory.
  • 1950-1952 Creates his famous “Woman, I” painting.
  • 1950s Recognized as one of the leaders of the Abstract Expressionist movement
  • 1962 Becomes U.S. citizen
  • 1963 Moves to East Hampton, Long Island.
  • 1968 First major solo-traveling show, organized by MoMA, travels to the Amsterdam, London, Chicago, Los Angeles.
  • 1985 Increasingly shows symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, dementia. Creates 63 paintings, his most productive year ever.
  • 1997 Dies at age 92.
  • 2006 His Woman III (1952-3) becomes the second most expensive painting ever sold, for $137.5 million US dollars.

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